My Sofa: How Not To Customer Service

Just this morning I was reading a blog post about the standard of customer service in South Africa, or lack thereof and I decided that in the spirit of the moment I’d like to add to the subject from atop my soapbox. The focus of my experience would be our living room sofa (naturally) and my favourite cell phone provider, MTN. I expect more blogs to follow on this subject, but for now these two will do.

I sometimes have to remind myself that I have willingly moved to live in the butt end Africa (geographically speaking), but for a country which markets itself as ‘first world’, has a plethora of spectacular scenery and wildlife and hosted a successful World Cup event in 2010, it is severely lacking when it comes to good customer service. Customer should be King. Customer focus in real first world countries is something which all service providers, consultants, hell….even fast food chains strive to overachieve in. Happy clients are something that will take you far, be it through word-of-mouth recommendations or otherwise. This is a mentality which I try to apply in every aspect of my job; I like to do things well and sometimes struggle to see why this can’t be emulated throughout South African society.

One should never paint people with the same broad brush, however as an expat who has travelled extensively, I can tell when I’m getting good or bad customer service. On a scale of 1 to 10, my experience of customer service here rates as a 3. It is obscenely bad (apart from when you walk into Weylandts furniture shop and ask to buy a sofa with a R25k+ price tag).

I’m a firm believer in DIY. Not only because it can save you some decent money, but more often than not, the completed job is how your mind’s eye had envisioned it. Since purchasing a property in SA, I’ve done most of the interior decorating and home improvements myself. If there is something which I can’t do, I ask around for recommendations – the norm…I think? I’ve had an electric gate installed, an electrician mess with the distribution due mainly to the fact that I detest electrics (especially after electrocuting myself on a live fence when I was heckling my neighbour for mowing his lawn at 6am on a Saturday morning….just slightly unreasonable! And then there is the saga of having my sofa reupholstered. I get cold sweats just thinking about it.

The guy who I chose to use was a recommendation from a very reputable source. I’d also viewed some of the guy’s previous work and it looked great. I phoned Moronic Mark (feels good to say it) back in August 2011 and he was overly happy to help me out, calling around to the house to view the sofa and explaining in detail the facelift procedure which he would perform on our decrepit looking Coricraft specimen. All this at a fraction of the price that we’d have spent on a new sofa.

What our sofa used to look like (complete with dog model)

I was excited to see the finished article, especially since our old couch had been a year-long eyesore which had until now been used by our dogs. They didn’t mind the faded material, missing stuffing or lack of legs. We explained that we wanted the sofa covered in a CHARCOAL coloured material, the same material which had been used by Mark to cover my friend’s couch (and the colour of this blog’s header). He said that he knew exactly what colour I was referring to (yes, the charcoal one!) and would be in touch once he had purchased it. I paid across the deposit and a couple of days later received a call to say that he’d picked up the material and that my couch would be ready in approximately two weeks.

My chocolate brown sofa and friend’s cushion for comparison

Two weeks up and my sofa was ready. Mark dropped it around one evening when my wife was out. On the back of the truck (in the dark), the workmanship looked great, although when we brought it into the house it took on a distinctly kak brown look in the light – chocolate brown apparently! My mood quickly took a nose dive. I questioned the colour and was told authoritatively that it was ‘exactly’ the same colour and material as my friends. I made a mental note to follow up on this and do a colour comparison. This was then when I dropped the ball and made a complete and utter faux-pas; I decided to pay Mark the balance outstanding. How naïve could I be, thinking (well I obviously wasn’t thinking) that if there was indeed a colour difference, Mark would politely apologise and rectify his mistake?

Fortunately I will not be using M&M Upholstery or Mark Meyer again, as he lacks to skills to a) admit he made a mistake and b) extend a level of courtesy to his customers which one would expect of a service provider. Following the presentation of irrefutable photo evidence, which proved that the two materials weren’t the same colour (by a long shot) he was full of excuses (when I managed to get hold of him) about bodged batch numbers and differences in colours dyes. He was blatantly rude to both me and my wife; then again, maybe he’s just a Tourette’s sufferer.

It is now the end of February 2012, Moronic Mark has moved to Durban, in an obvious move to escape his unhappy clientele in Gauteng and my sofa is still the same colour as it arrived in. I’ve all but given up hope. This is not how it should be. In the real world Mark should retract his forearm from out of his rectum, thus allowing him to operate a telephone keypad and do the right thing! How hard can it be?

I’ve just come off the phone after explained to him that he was unprofessional, never delivered on his word and that, for the millionth time the material colour was not what we originally requested. He told me to go and buy a bag of charcoal and look inside – naturally. I politely told him that it was not me who was in need of this advice, but rather him that needed a Plascon/Dulux colour swath. My retort was followed by another Tourette’s outburst, but it felt good that I’d gotten slightly under his crocodilian skin.

So what of MTN? Let’s just say we’ll put that you on hold until another time.

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